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How Much Data Do I Need?

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Young woman on train using mobile phone
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Question: How Much Data Do I Need?
Many cell phone and mobile broadband service providers offer tiered, rather than unlimited data plans--a lower price for up to 200MB of data access in a month, for example, versus a higher 2GB or 5GB data limit. To determine which mobile data plan is best for you, learn how much can you download or surf with each data limit and compare that to your needs and actual usage. Then find the best mobile data plan for you based on these numbers.
Answer:

If you already have a data plan, you can check your wireless bill to see how much data you use in a typical month and decide whether or not you should go to a lower or higher data tier.

Otherwise, you can calculate how much mobile data you'll need to access over a month using the examples below, provided by the major wireless providers in the U.S. (note that these are estimates only and data usage can vary by phone/device and other variables).

Amount of Data Used Per Activity

  • 1 Email - text only: 3 KB - 20 KB
  • 1 Email - with photo attachment: 350 KB
  • 1 Email - with MS Office attachment: 300 KB

  • 1 Web page: 150 KB - 1.5 MB

  • 1 minute of Streaming Music: 500 KB
  • Social media update with photo: 500 KB
  • Hi-res digital photo upload/download: 1 MB
  • 1 minute of streaming video: 2 MB - 5 MB
  • 1 app/game/song download: 3 MB - 4 MB

What You Can Do with a 100 MB Data Plan

Virgin Mobile's Broadband2Go site indicates that 100 MB of data can be used for 5 hours of Web browsing and 10,000 emails (without attachments).

What You Can Do with a 200 MB Data Plan

According to AT&T's data usage calculator, a 200 MB data plan would cover in one month: 1,000 text emails, 50 emails with photo attachments, 150 emails with other attachments, 60 social media posts with photos uploaded, and 500 Web pages viewed (note: AT&T uses the lower 180 KB per page estimate). Streaming media and downloads of apps or songs would increase the usage over 200 MB in this scenario.

What You Can Do with a 2 GB Data Plan

Increasing your data access potential by about 10 times would cover, according to AT&T, on average: 8,000 text-only emails, 600 emails with photo attachments, 600 emails with other attachments, 3,200 web pages viewed, 30 apps, 300 social media posts, and 40 minutes of streaming video.

More Data Calculators and Usage Tables

Verizon's data usage calculator can also help you estimate how much monthly data you may need, based on the number of emails you send, web pages you visit, and your multimedia needs.

Sprint's mobile broadband usage table shows what you can do with 500 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, and 5 GB plans, but be careful when reading the chart. For example, it says you can access 166,667 emails each month with a 500 MB plan, but that's if you only use emails and don't do any other mobile data activities (they also estimate each email to use the lower 3 KB per email figure).

Know How Much Data You're Using

It bears repeating that these are just estimates, and if you go over any allotted data usage (whether intentionally or unintentionally, such as if you travel and go outside of the coverage area without knowing it), you could be subjected to hefty fees. It pays to know how to avoid data roaming charges, and, if you're on a tiered data plan, to keep tabs on your data usage.

More: How To Monitor Your Mobile Data Usage

1 MB = 1,024 KB
1 GB = 1,024 MB

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